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  1. #1
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    Have intentions of starting a Web Design Business. Need Advice. Anything helps.

    I would really appreciate it if some of you could take the time to read this post and provide feedback/advice! I'm sorry that it's long, but it would really help!

    A little background on myself. I'm 16 years old and have been designing websites since I was 14. I picked up HTML and CSS early, and I am currently working on Javascript. My coding is generally semantic and well-written, but I can use some improvement, and I intend on picking up some recent books to refine my coding, if I end up starting this business. As for my design, I believe that it is good enough for me to provide it as a service.

    I've made websites for people before, but my clients were either family members, or friends. Here's what i've made so far:

    • www.ischoolerz.com -- A classmate/friend of mine needed a website done for a small business that he was starting up.
    • www.rubalawns.com -- A friend of mine's uncle needed a website for his landscaping business.
    • www.greekcafemix.com -- My uncle needed a website for his restaurant. Please excuse the terrible color selection, he insisted on a full blue background.


    So as you can see, I've never dealt with a client that was a complete stranger, and because of this, my lack of knowledge in business/client interaction wasn't a big deal.

    My question here is, what's the next step? I'm assuming I'll need to study a bit of business. I know I'll need to study the process of web design with a client (the stages of production, etc). What are some things that I need to know before investing my time into getting this started? What are somethings that I should know that I probably don't know about right now?

    Any resources would also be extremely helpful, and any advice from you guys would be as well. Again, the help is greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance!

  • #2
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    I'm not sure if you're in the US or not, but I am, so my responses will be based on my experience here. Other countries may be different

    First, at 16, you're not going to be able to "legally" start your own business. Most states (if not all) require you to be at least 18 to enter into a legal contract (like starting a business).

    That said, first step is to get a bank account for the business. You'll want to keep business assets separated from personal assets for a lot of reasons (tax purposes, liability, etc).

    Next you'll need to think about what you want to do, who your target market is, how you'll reach that market, what rates you'll charge, etc. Basically, put together a business plan. It doesn't have to be a 500 page document, but I would strongly recommend putting one together. It often seems tedious, and boring, but it will help you flush out some ideas on what you want to do, and will be a good reference going forward.

    Once you know what you want to do for your business, get some basic boilerplate contracts. Someone once told me to hire a lawyer, which is a good idea if you're going to be dealing with a $50k project. But, most of my clients are no where near that level, so really, what you need to cover in your contracts are payment terms, and scope / work terms. In web work, there really are only 2 types of project work - "fixed bid", where you state the scope of the work and a static price and "hourly" where you do work as needed and bill for each hour. You'll need a contract to handle both types of work. I have found that "fixed bid" contracts are usually good for the initial project work (i.e. the first build) but once you're done with that work, moving to an hourly contract for maintenance, etc is generally a good way to go.

    A few things to consider:
    1) Be confident when talking to people. You almost always will know more about web development than your potential client - show that knowledge, but don't be arrogant about it.
    2) Be reasonable - charging $400 / hour with a limited portfolio won't fly.
    3) Watch out for "if you do this for me for free, I'll have more work" people. These people, almost universally never have more paid work, they will hold that carrot out in front if you forever.
    4) On fixed bid projects, get a deposit. I usually have a minimum deposit ranging from 15% to 50% depending on the size of the project (smaller projects have higher deposit requirements for me).
    5) Get an email address at YOUR website. I can't tell you how many "professional" developers I've seen that run mywebcompany.com, but have a johndoe@hotmail.com email account. Don't do it. Set up johndoe@mywebcompany.com and use that.
    6) Invoicing - do it on a regular schedule (I do mine the first business day of the month). Of all the "former" web developers I know, this is the one thing that made them quit their business and go back to working FOR someone - they never invoiced except when they needed money. The problem with this is, many times if you don't invoice regularly, you end up with some client that's into you for 50+ hours of work for the past year. Sending them an invoice out of the blue will piss them off. Sending them a 5 hour invoice for 10 months straight - usually no problem.
    7) Last, and most importantly, have FUN! Running your own business should be enjoyable. You can always get a crappy job working FOR someone.

    Hope this helps. More of a "watch out for these pitfalls" response, but hopefully it's useful.

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  • #3
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    Thanks so much for the advice! I just have a couple questions.

    Quote Originally Posted by bcarl314 View Post
    First, at 16, you're not going to be able to "legally" start your own business. Most states (if not all) require you to be at least 18 to enter into a legal contract (like starting a business).
    What would be the legal way of going about making websites for people in return for money? What do you know about licensing and whether I need it or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by bcarl314 View Post
    2) Be reasonable - charging $400 / hour with a limited portfolio won't fly.
    How can I determine what would be reasonable prices for my websites? I definitely want most of my projects to be charged at a fixed amount determined by me depending on how much they want on a website.

    Quote Originally Posted by bcarl314 View Post
    6) Invoicing - do it on a regular schedule (I do mine the first business day of the month). Of all the "former" web developers I know, this is the one thing that made them quit their business and go back to working FOR someone - they never invoiced except when they needed money. The problem with this is, many times if you don't invoice regularly, you end up with some client that's into you for 50+ hours of work for the past year. Sending them an invoice out of the blue will piss them off. Sending them a 5 hour invoice for 10 months straight - usually no problem.
    I assumed that the money is entirely collected when the project/website is published. Maybe I don't understand the correct definition of "invoicing"? Or do you have a different way of collecting money in this business?

    Sorry for all the questions, and thanks again!

  • #4
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    Question 1: In the US, you can't. You'll need a parent or guardian to be the official business owner. Some paperwork you'll need to file will include an assumed name, articles of incorporation, and applications for federal and state tax ids. Most of this information is free online at your state's Secretary of State website.

    Question 2: Be careful on fixed bids. You'd be surprised how many people think the scope includes more. An example: I recently had a client that asked for a login form. My specs said I would deliver a login form that accepted a username and password, checked them against a database, and if there was a match, it would log the user in. However, once the page was live, spammers came by and tried to brute force it. The client wanted me to install CAPTCHA for free. Not a big deal, but it was the straw that broke the camels back as it were, and I said it would take an extra half hour to do. They demanded it be done within the scope. It's a perfect example of the problem with fixed bids. As far as pricing, site down and figure out what you want your rate to be. Starting rates in the US are $20 - $40 / hour. If you do fixed bid, tally up the amount of time you expect things to take, then add a "cushion" to cover the inevitable out-of-scope-but-the-client-thinks-are-in-scope tasks. 10 - 25%

    Question 3: I know some developers that work that way: 100% at the end. I know others that work 100% up front. The way I look at it is to spread risk equally. If I wait to invoice / bill at the end, I risk all of the money never getting paid for me doing 100% of the work. If I bill everything up front, the client risks me walking away without completing the project (not that I'd do that). So I set up my fixed bid contracts on a payment plan (2 to 6+ months depending on the size). That way, if the client stops paying, I stop working and I'm not out all the money.

  • #5
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    I suggest continuing to learn and expand your programming knowledge until you turn 18 before starting a business. The better you are at what you do, the more successful you will become. When it comes to websites, your work will either make you or break you.
    Been a sign maker for 7 years. My business:
    American Made Signs

  • #6
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    I disagree, now is the perfect time to get the ball rolling. It took me 2+ years working part time / moonlighting to build up a client base large enough to be 100% full time on development. Starting now, at 16, and working 5 hours / week, then next year, go to 10 - 15 hours, means by the time you're 18, you shouldn't have a problem working 25 - 40 hours / week on your own!

    Very few people can just jump into full-time without doing the 3-month contract gigs, which I'm not a fan of at all, and they require a lot of experience to get.

  • #7
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    My 2 cents.

    Offer to do some websites for free, 2 or 3, put everything you can into them.

    Then you have 5 websites, 5 testimonials and a basic portfolio.

    Make a website for yourself, showing off your portfolio and testimonials, direct everyone to it, see if you can get any work from that.
    <DmncAtrny> I will write on a huge cement block "BY ACCEPTING THIS BRICK THROUGH YOUR WINDOW, YOU ACCEPT IT AS IS AND AGREE TO MY DISCLAIMER OF ALL WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, AS WELL AS DISCLAIMERS OF ALL LIABILITY, DIRECT, INDIRECT, CONSEQUENTIAL OR INCIDENTAL, THAT MAY ARISE FROM THE INSTALLATION OF THIS BRICK INTO YOUR BUILDING."
    <DmncAtrny> And then hurl it through the window of a Sony officer
    <DmncAtrny> and run like hell

    Portfolio, Tutorials - http://www.nomanic.biz/

  • #8
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    The only concern I would have with doing a website for free is the only referrals you'll get will be people expecting the site to be free. I.e., all your "clients" will tell others "I know this guy that does websites for free". Not exactly the best way to make money


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